Making an Anasazi Style Flute

The Anasazi style flute.

There are many examples of how this flute sounds on the web. I find Scott August is a gifted musician and I encourage you to take a listen. There are other fine Anasazi players, I am just drawn to his music. I am very grateful to people that have learned to craft and play these flutes so the rest of us can enjoy. I firmly believe the gifts we receive aren’t for us, but for those we can share them with. So, I am sharing what I have learned so others can try their hand at it and enjoy the music of these flutes intimately. I encourage you to buy a CD or spring for a flute and help support the people that make these instruments. Making one is an adventure and allows one to try playing one without the outlay involved. I make NAF Style flutes, but I have purchased 2 of them because I do believe in supporting the craftsmen and musicians that create the music for us to enjoy. Music is such an integral part of our lives. I can’t imagine life without it.

I am a guitarist of many decades and over the years, I have been drawn to many different instruments and learned to play them. The NAF Style flute and the Anasazi Style flute have captured my heart and spirit. I think these should be in the reach of everyone. The Anasazi is a little hard to get the first tones, but gets much easier after the first success. It is more than worth the effort to learn how to play this amazing, beautiful instrument.

I have seen many descriptions of the Anasazi style flute. I have not yet found any instructions for making and tuning one. I find data and some measurements have been shared. I will endeavor to create the instructions to actually make one as I learn how to craft one. I have looked at photos of the actual flutes, those crafted by modern flute makers and read everything I can find on the dimensions and tunings. So here is my attempt to teach as I learn.

I have made a few “duds” as I tested the percentages to use in creating the tuning holes. This will be my attempt to make one that is in tune through the scale. We’ll discuss the scale as I progress through the process of making each tuning hole.

I will make this from PVC pipe as it is easy on the pocket book if you have to start over. If you are brave, craft a wooden tube as you would any NAF style flute but you don’t need the SAC or TSH, just a 3/4″ tube that is 24″ long to start. The wall thickness should be that of a 3/4 PVC as shown. The labeling in my image is upside down, but that is easily corrected if you want to read the specs. I purchased this pipe at Home Depot, already cut to 24″ long for a few dollars. Here is a reference photo. Pictures can speak more than words. You can click on the image to see the full size version. The full size image will open in a new tab.

Anasazi Style Flute reference photos

Anasazi Style Flute reference photos.

These measurements are scaled down from the actual flute dimensions. The full size flute is too large for my hands, so I had to scale it down. Google Flutopedia and search the site for the Anasazi Flute section and you will find the actual measurements of flutes that were found. I can play a full sized flute, but it causes much discomfort after a few minutes due to the “reach” between the holes and distance from my body. To make the full size flute, follow what I’ve done here but use the measurements of the actual flute. I am using percentages to determine hole placement so my PVC flute will be the same as the original, only smaller to scale. It will obviously have a higher pitch and will not have the tone of natural materials. It does however sound pretty good for what it is.

ALWAYS WEAR ADEQUATE DUST PROTECTION WHEN WORKING WITH PVC. IT IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH AND I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR IMPROPER SAFETY PRECAUTIONS IF YOU FOLLOW THIS TUTORIAL. USE PROPER SAFETY TECHNIQUES WITH THE TOOLS AS WELL. A DRILL OR KNIFE CAN DO SERIOUS HARM VERY QUICKLY!

Determine which end is to be the mouthpiece and round off the edge all the way around with a file. Once you have a nice even rounded edge you can make the splitting edge for the stream of air you will create with your lips. I have found that the flattened area is not necessary, but makes the tone easier to make. Some like to flatten it until a “notch” is created. This does make the tone easier to produce, but I find it makes octaves more difficult. Note the images in the large image on this post. The flattened area is not very large and you do NOT want a sharp edge. Leave it blunt.

I recommend you flatten it slightly and try to produce sound. Taking more material off is possible, but putting it back is not. Always work in small steps as a small change can make a big difference!

Once your mouthpiece looks like this one in the image, you are ready to make a tone. Place your lower lip on the end of the flute and press lightly against the flute. It will feel like you are covering about 1/2 of the mouthpiece opening. Now “stretch” your lip to tighten and flatten it. Slight pressure on the mouthpiece will hold your lip in place. Now in a relaxed feel, flatten your upper lip and try to form a flat stream of air. Do NOT try to purse your lips, rather, it should be a flattening sensation. I find that when I have a clear tone, it “feels” like my upper lip is in front of my lower lip. The object is to create a “sound hole” with a flat stream of air split by the flattened edge of the mouthpiece. Blow very gently and move the upper lip forward and backward. Imagine there is a candle in front of you. Blow just hard enough to move the flame but not blow it out. Also adjust the angle of the flute. The photos in the image on this post is me actually making the tone. Note the angle of the flute and the placement of the lips on the mouth piece. The objective is to gently blow a flat stream of air directed at the splitting edge of the mouthpiece. This will produce the tone. When you hear a tone, keep adjusting until you hear a clear strong tone. If it is weak and/or breathy sounding, you are close. A clear strong sound can be made. Be persistent.

I find it is helpful to not try and “force” a sound. Listen as you blow and try to hear a sound. Move the flute around and adjust your lips. Let your mind do the calculating. It is an amazing calculator! It will note what worked and what did not and will help you to come back to that point as you refine the sound. I have read that it can take weeks to obtain a good tone. If you work at it, you can reasonably expect to take several hours. The human mind will continue to work on a problem even as you sleep. It will “play the tapes” as you sleep and analyze what took place and what worked. After working at it awhile, put the flute down and come back later or the next day. It will get easier and better each time. It may sound corny, but if you let your spirit flow through the flute, the tone will come easier. “Want” the tone, but don’t force it. Let your instincts and mind solve the problem of how to make the tone. My images are just a starting place. Anatomically, if one person can play a tone, all can. So, don’t give up.

Once you have a clear tone that you can play each time you pick up the flute, blow the note and look at your favorite tuner. When you see the same reading each time you try, you are ready to start tuning. I strongly suggest you not try to tune until you can make the same note each time. You can’t tune to a note if the pressure and shape of your lips is different each time. I have found that the note can change and will until you become consistent in producing the tone.

Once you have the note reproducible, start filing or cutting off the foot end in small increments. I usually will take of a couple of saw blade widths. It only takes a minute to cut and check. I tuned mine from 24″ to the final length in less than 10 minutes and the final length is 60.7 cm. My dimensions are a guide. Use your tuner to be sure you have the correct length and can play the root note of “C”. If you wish to tune to a higher or lower note, you can do so, but the placement of the tuning holes is not easy and there is a certain amount of “feel” to it. If you follow my dimensions you will be close as I won’t post each hole position until I know it is right. This may take awhile because I am learning as I go. I have made a few already that play fairly well in preparation for this tutorial. Check back as I begin creating and tuning the fingering holes.

The Anasazi flute is an amazingly beautiful sounding instrument. It is hard work, more mentally than physically, to craft one. It is difficult to get that first tone. Work at it and when you hear that first tone. Stop and take in what just occurred. Savor your victory while letting your mind remember what it took to produce that sound and how good it felt to hear the tone you were making. Then try again. I promise you the effort is worth it. I am happy to answer any questions you may have to the extent I am able.

Here is a sample sound using the flute in this writing, without any finger holes. I played 2 notes using the mic built into my web cam and without effects. I then played a few with some echo & reverb to give an idea of what it can sound like with effects. Obviously, when recording a song, use a good mic and take time to be in a quiet room to record.

      1. Anasazi Style Flute Sample

I will work out the placement of the first hole (closest to the foot) and post more as I have success. I hope you will follow along and build one. It will be worth the effort.

Harold

8/8/12
HOLE 6

Well, I forgot to mention hobby files. A good set of hobby files is a big plus in your arsenal of tools. I found mine at Harbor Freight in Boise for under $5.00. Check around the tool suppliers in your area. You can do this with a good carving knife and your drill bits, but a round or oval hobby or needle file will help you with sizing the holes.

With this flute, the root (all holes closed is a “C”). The first hole from the foot end of the flute (hole 6) is shown here and is a “D” note (one full step up from “C”):

Notice the measurements show from your left to the right.  The mouth piece end is to the left. The center of hole 6 is 50.25 cm from the mouthpiece end.  There is no notch, so just measure from the end of the flute.  Note the size. I am not providing the exact size, because it may be a little different on your flute.  How you create the embouchure with your lips and the mouthpiece can affect the pitch.  Start with a small drill; 11/64″ will do it.  After you drill it, clean up any loose material as it will affect the quality and pitch of the tone. Blow into the flute producing a tone. I find if you start with the lowest tone and get it clear, then open the hole while you blow, this allows you to use the same air pressure and flow and helps in the accuracy of your tuning.  In VERY slight steps enlarge the hole using the next size up for the drill bit, cleaning away debris and checking the pitch each time. I find it helpful to try and enlarge favoring the mouthpiece end.  This will help to keep you from having too big of a hole to cover with your finger.  If you have correctly placed the hole it will turn out to be the right size to produce a clean tone and a decent volume of sound.

Note the change amount with each drill bit and when you think the next size may take it over the top, STOP!!  You cannot add the material back.  On a wooden flute you can plug the hole and start over. Not so on PVC and honestly you will be happier without plugs on the flute body.  A trick for those using wood. Some woods splinter easily with drilling.  Drill at a high speed and reverse the drill rotation direction. Drilling backward heats the wood and helps to harden the rim of the hole and I have yet to see any wood I’ve used splinter using that technique.  You can burn the holes with a hot rod or large nail, but DO NOT try to do that with PVC!!! The fumes are not good and to restate, I take no responsibility for any unsafe acts. Check with whomever you need to, to satisfy yourself that you are being SAFE.

Note that the black lettering on my flute represents the center line from the flattened area of the mouthpiece. I did that on purpose.  I have marked out where each hole will likely go. Notice that I made a ring around the flute.  In placing the hole, mine is off center on purpose. It is to make reaching the hole easier.  Hold the flute and produce a tone with your dominant hand ring finger on the lowest ring in the most comfortable place.  Ensure the the long and index finger are at least a knuckle width up for spacing and feel as comfortable as possible.  When you have played a clear note and the lower hand feels the most comfortable, slide your ring finger back and forth over the pencil line in a lengthwise direction with the flute. This will erase the line revealing where to drill the hole.  Slick eh?  When you have the hole tuned to “D”, you will be ready to advance to the next hole.

UNLESS YOU ARE CERTAIN WHERE EACH HOLE WILL GO, DO NOT DRILL THE NEXT HIGHER HOLE UNTIL YOU ARE CERTAIN THE LAST ONE DRILLED IS IN TUNE.  THE HOLES THAT ARE OPEN WILL AFFECT THE UPPER HOLES AND THE UPPER HOLES WILL AFFECT THE LOWER EVEN IF COVERED BECAUSE THEY ADD TO THE VOLUME OF THE FLUTE BORE.  TUNE CAREFULLY, SLOWLY AND METHODICALLY, CHECKING THE TUNING WITH EACH ADJUSTMENT.  IF YOU TUNE TOO SHARP (HIGHER), YOU CANNOT GO BACK AND YOUR FLUTE WILL BE OUT OF TUNE THROUGH THE SCALE.

If you find you cannot get the pitch correct to a “D” and the hole is getting what you think is too large, try filing away the mouthpiece end on the inside of the bore only by angling your file. Undercutting to the mouthpiece end will raise the pitch while allowing you to be able to cover the hole with your finger.  If you totally botch it, start over. The raw PVC flute body is inexpensive.

This can be frustrating.  I ruined 5 blanks before I got a good feel for where the holes go. There is information on the web on where to drill the holes, but again, depending on how you craft the mouthpiece and form the embouchure, the hole location can vary some.  If you drill too high, you can’t make the hole small enough. If you drill too low, you can’t make the hole large enough without being too large to cover.  If you duplicate even close to what I’ve done you will have success.

Well I am out of time for tonight.  I will tackle the next higher note in my next post.  You can practice producing tones in the meantime.  If you learn to intentionally over-blow and produce the octaves, you will have 4 notes to “play” with as you practice.  When this flute is built and finished, I will do a tutorial on how to play spontaneously or improvise songs on the fly.

Happy flute making! Don’t give up if you botch it. You only are defeated if you don’t try again.  Seriously, I could fill my closet with scrapped projects I’ve done learning how.  The desire to make a better flute, keeps me sparked and finding more enjoyment. None of my attempts have been failures. They have been LESSONS 😉

Harold

8/9/12
Hole 5

Another success!!. Hole 5 is in and tuned. It is an “Eb”. Here’s a photo:

Hole 5

The center of hole 5 is 47.2 cm from the mouthpiece end. So far we have “C” – all holes closed, “D” – hole 6 open and “Eb” – holes 5 & 6 open. To tune just follow the directions as in hole 6 only you are shooting for an Eb note. Notice hole 5 is a little smaller. I was a little above the line I drew as the drill slipped some. A workable hole size though. In future models (mine will be wooden) I can use this flute as a template and lower hole 5 a little if I want more evenly sized holes. Be aware as you play up the scale you may need to adjust the pressure (increase air flow) or move the flute slightly to get a clear sound. The more you practice, the easier it gets. The better you craft the flute, the easier it will be to tune and play it. I will keep updating as I get time to add the remaining holes.

I will pause here to show you some “tab” for the flute. The “X” is a closed hole and the “O” is an open hole. I will use the ”

Here are the notes so far without overblowing:

Notes so far

As you progress up the scale, each “X” would be replaced by a “O” until all are open or “O”. There are cross fingering notes that are outside of the intent of this tutorial so, I’ll avoid getting into that until a later blog. Tab is cool. It eliminates the consideration of what key one is playing in or what the note is. The only consideration is that the tab is written for a type of flute. The NAF Style flute and the Anasazi Style flute have different scales so the tab would not be interchangeable. If you come across some tab for an NAF Style flute and want to play it on the Anasazi style flute, you would need to determine what the notes are then find those notes on the flute you are playing. Once you know the notes, you can play the song on any instrument that you can identify the notes. Way cool! My understanding of the Anasazi flute is a Minor Pentatonic scale can be played on it so the NAF Style scale is available. There are numerous web pages out there that cover scales and fingering, so I won’t try to recreate all that information. At the end of this tutorial, I will endeavor to give an example of how to “transpose” a NAF style tune to the Anasazi flute. It isn’t hard, but I’ve not had to write out the explanation before. I will give it a shot, but for now, the focus is to make the flute.

Good luck with hole 5. You can do it. The more you practice the better it gets and more quickly at that! I hope you are enjoying making this flute as much as I am. Each flute is an adventure and I always marvel at the tones the come out! It is OK to pat yourself on the back once in awhile – IMHO 😉

Harold

8/10/12
Sample

This morning I got up and thought I would give you a quick sample of what the flute sounds like so far. I added echo and some reverb to “enhance” the sound. This is totally unrehearsed and made up on the spur. I have a hard time waiting until a flute is finished to start playing it. Anyway just a sample. As you can hear, this type of flute is new to me. So, if I can, so can you.

Here is the sample:

      2. Anasazi 2 hole sample

Harold

8/11/12
Finished the Flute. Total time? All totaled maybe 3 hours at a comfortable pace. The remaining holes were created using the same process as above. Here are the percentages and actual final measurements of the flute I have made:

The notes from low to high showing the Fingering with Tab, are:

Scale of “C” Anasazi style flute.

The preliminary distances (before drilling) from the mouth end of the flute to the center of the holes in percentages is:

#6 = 83% (of the total lenght of the flute)
#5 = 78% (of the total lenght of the flute)
#4 = 74% (of the total lenght of the flute)
#3 = 56% (of the total lenght of the flute)
#2 = 51% (of the total lenght of the flute)
#1 = 45% (of the total lenght of the flute)

I express it this way so you can make a larger or smaller flute if you want.
My actual measurements from the mouth end of the flute are:

#6 = 52.5 cm
#5 = 47.2 cm
#4 = 44.6 cm
#3 = 33.8 cm
#2 = 30.7 cm
#1 = 27.25 cm

Here is a photo of the flute with all the holes drilled. Notice the lines I had laid out according to percentages. You can see that my calculations weren’t perfect. Likely because the original flutes had taper. This one does not. The important thing here is that I started with a small hole to see where the pitch of the note was. If is seems quite a bit off from the target note, I would strive to make the enlargements favoring the mouth piece side. If I had not done this, the hole would have needed to be very large to come into tune. Always drill an 11/16″ or smaller hole first to see if you’re in the right range. If the pitch is close with just a small hole, enlarge favoring the foot end. Trying to keep the hole round shaped. If the pitch is quite a bit lower than the target noted, enlarge favoring the mouthpiece end. Notice the lowest hole #6 is right on. The rest get progressively off. I attribute this to the lack of taper of the bore of the PVC pipe. So, if you were successful, yours will look something like this.

All holes with markings

After taking a snapshot with all the markings, I used some fine sand paper (wet to prevent dust) and sanded off the markings. I have used Comet very dry on a damp sponge – it just takes longer. Then I used some leather lacing like is use on the NAF Style flutes I make and decorated it. The decorations is up to you. There are “paints” out there that will dye the PVC. Regular Paints don’t like to stick. One could do some carvings into the surface and color them with colored markers. I have used a torch outside in well ventilated areas and scorched the surface of PVC. It will resemble wood. If you use a coarse saw blade you can get a surface grain look. I STRONGLY urge you to use extreme caution when you use PVC with any sanding, heating, filing or similar. It is toxic. Some woods are toxic too, so as a general rule, ALWAYS research the materials you are planning to use for the hazards involved.

So anyway here’s the flute with some leather strapping. Notice the holes are not in a straight line. This is to make it more comfortable for my hands and the placement method is described above if you want to fit the flute to your hand.

This is the finished PVC Anasazi Style Flute

And to complete this blog, I recorded a made up tune, applied some echo and reverb to give you an idea of what it can do. Please be kind and remember, I am just a beginner at playing this marvelous instrument.

      3. Lasting Rest

And the same song with some synthesizer for atmosphere:

      4. Lasting Rest

Well there it is. I sincerely hope you were able to follow along and create one of these beautiful instruments. I would truly love the shake the hand of the people that played the original flutes. That kind of beauty comes from a good heart. What a wonderful people they must have been. To have crafted these instruments in a time when there weren’t routers, lathes and even hobby files must have been challenging. I am in awe.

I will begin working on a short tutorial on how to play spontaneously on the flute. The method can be utilized on any instrument, but I will keep it relevant to this flute made in this tutorial. I will post some of the songs I come up with and would be happy to answer any questions to the best of my ability with what knowledge I have gathered so far.

Now to start creating my wooden version. I will post a picture when it is done. May take awhile as all my shaping is done by hand. I have to turn a block into a tube. How much more fun can there be?

Harold

8/19/12

Well, I made a wooden flute from the PVC version.  Here’s a picture:

Wooden Anasazi Style Flute in “C”

This is almost the identical length as the PVC flute. I think small differences in the bores account for that. I made the flat area of the mouthpiece a little more pronounced as it had the effect of making the octaves easier and the tone a little easier to make. I noticed I had to move the holes toward the mouth end of the flute due to the walls being a little thicker than the PVC and the bore size being a little different. I noticed something about this flute. The lowest hole (at the foot end) is one hand width from the foot end of the flute to the lowest edge of the hole. The space between the sets of holes is also one hand width. The holes are about the width between my index and long finger knuckles. That is a lot like how you do the NAF Style flute! I put the flute to my arm and it is the length of my arm as well. I started with two 24″ poplar 1″x2″ boards from Home Depot. They were already cut. There is more material to remove to make the flute round, but I save having to rip a piece of wood to make the halves. Anyway I found it interesting. I had to move the holes about 1/2 the width of each hole to bring it to tune. If, as described above, you start with a very small hole, you can see how far it is from the targeted note, If it is pretty far off, drill with next size bit and start above the pilot hole. You can merge them. By running the drill in reverse, it is easy to favor the mouth end as you enlarge. If you don’t reverse the drill, it will tend to self-center on the prior hole and makes it almost impossible to enlarge only to the mouth end side. At least that is my experience. I had fun making this flute and love the way it sounds.

Here is a sample I call Canyon Dreaming. I write a song with every new flute I make. These are just recorded as I improvise. The sound makes sort of guides one to the next note, along with a little imagination. Anyway, the song:

      5. Canyon Dreaming

I wish you many successes if you try your hand a flute making!
Harold
Copyright 2012, William H Hopper. You may use the information, but please do not copy.

3 thoughts on “Making an Anasazi Style Flute

  1. Thats a great article Harold. Do you know the percentages for a larger bore 1″rimblown? I want to make a low F#. This is a very large rimblown…close to 34″ long. I have never calculated one by using the % and just have been unable to find the info online I need. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!!.

  2. This is a great article and I will definitely be using it as a guide. That said, it’s not at all true that you “can’t” plug a PVC flute to correct a mistake. Exactly the same procedure as with a wooden flute, but substitute wood glue for epoxy or super glue. If anything, it gave my PVC flute some character that a piece of plumbing was lacking.

    • One can plug anything. The question is would you want to? I have never kept a flute that I made an error significant enough to put a plug and redo. I just start a new flute. I would always be aware of the plug even if I could cosmetically hide it and unless you get the insider of the plug to a state were it does not cause imperfection in the bore walls, it will impact the sound. So yes, you can plug PVC or wood or concrete or clay, but would one really want to? When I say you can’t put it back, I mean it in the sense I don’t care for patched up flutes. So for me I literally can’t put it back. For me I would not plug a badly placed or overtuned hole, I would just make a new flute. It is one of the reasons I do any external caring last.

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